Derain, Balthus and Giacometti in Paris

This exhibition is currently showing at Le Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville in Paris until the 29th of October and comprises some 350 works which depict the friendship between these three artists. Their friendship which began in 1933 shows their joint fascination for classical Italian masters, formal clarity and experimentation with both still life and open air painting.

Derain, in particular, emerges as the significant and productive painter in this innovative and energetic period and naturally, a truly brilliant colourist. Here we see his later work and not his fauvist period. This exhibition shows their cross fertilisation between the three and their enthusiasms which clearly ricocheted off each other. In addition they shared models, friendships, collectors and in particular their interests in all aspects of contemporary drama. They were, until after the war, energetic in their correspondence, although without clear transcripts, their letters are not always easy to read even if the visitor is a fluent in French. An impressive self-portrait by Giacometti dominates the entrance, which calls to mind a certain likeness to Duncan Grant. Grant and Derain were post-impressionists deeply influenced by Matisse and Cezanne and indeed both were acquaintances of Gertrude Stein.

When comparing these three artists, each of whom are creative masters, it is worth considering their dates:- Derain (1880-1954), Giacometti(1901-1966) and Balthus(1908-2001). Derain was then their guiding light and already very well-known. He was in recovery from his years of military service but ready to move beyond fauvism towards a new classicism. He found time however to design for Diaghilev and the Ballets Russe.  He studied the masters of the early Renaissance and then Pompeian art. It was one particular still life that attracted the penetrating attention of Giacometti with one work- a sombre work from 1936 Nature morte aux poires.

Giacometti is currently on show at the Tate Modern until the 10th September and a few weeks later a new film appears with the Australian actor, Geoffrey Rush playing Giacometti. However, this Paris exhibition shows the cultural hinterland of this key modernist and his interest in working with Beckett, for example in the minimalist staging of Waiting for Godot.

The range of Balthus’s work is illustrated including the disquieting suspense filled eroticism of his depiction of reading, languorous adolescents. Balthus’s East-European ancestry has been the subject of much controversy but it seems that his mother was Jewish and romantically involved with the poet, Rilke. His work shows a deep knowledge and interest in literature. He had moved to Paris in 1933 from Morocco and formed a circle of friends which included the foremost poets and playwrights of the period. The range of his work is shown here and it is unsurprising to learn that the controversial psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan was a major collector of his oeuvre.

The work on show includes some thought provoking portraits, sculptures, stage sets and photographs. It is not difficult to discern the disquieting political atmosphere of the times. As is well known, Derain stood accused on account of his visit to Berlin during the German Occupation. Nevertheless, Derain appears to have offered protection to members of Balthus’s family.    These works which include the magnificent etiolated sketches, almost carved into the background, by Giacometti, evidence the frenzied artistic activity situated between Saint-Germain and Montparnasse.

 

Their friendships included writers and poets like Artiste Arnaud, Max Jacob, Jean Cocteau together with Breton, Camus and Malraux. Surrealism was penetrating the dramatic experiments of the evolving “theatre of cruelty” with projects by Sartre and Jean-Louis Barrault. The world of fashion with Doucet and Dior, too was an occasional involvement. This is an exciting exhibition and prospective visitors require a minimum of two hours to get their money’s worth.

 

 

Writing in Exile-the Land of Lost Content

The lines from A.E.Housman are well known:-

Into my heart an air that kills
 From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
 What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
 I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
 And cannot come again.

The condition of being in Exile, is one common element in the human condition. It is certainly an important factor in Irish culture as is well pointed out in this excerpt from The Guardian on Beckett and Joyce – http://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/feb/28/ireland-exile-culture

Here Sean O’Hagan mentions,”This sense of spiritual as well as cultural displacement was evoked, too, by the poet Patrick Kavanagh, who walked the streets around Ealing Broadway in 1953 willing himself to remember his native Monaghan “until a world comes to life – morning, the silent bog”. In the second half of that same decade, an estimated half a million people left Ireland to begin their lives all over again, abroad.” There is spiritual exile, linguistic exile and the sense of personal exile when someone close dies or moves away, in an emotional or geographical sense.

George Klaar (1920-2009)
George Klaar (1920-2009)

TLW I have just been reading a deeply moving account of lost Austrian-Jewish culture in George Klaar’s Last Waltz in Vienna and was sorry to hear of his passing.http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/george-clare-memoirist-who-recalled-life-in-nazi-vienna-and-postwar-berlin-1726060.html .This threnody mentions his experiences not only in Vienna but also in Berlin, from where Klaar attempted his escape from the Nazis, initially to Ireland. A different approach and general introduction to exilliteratur (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exilliteratur) is to be found in Martin Maunthner’s book on German Writers in French Exile 1933-1940. Mauthner was born in Leningrad of  Austrian parents. He worked in journalism and with the

Katharina Mann in Munich in 1905-she later converted to Lutheranism
Katharina Mann in Munich in 1905-she later converted to Lutheranism

European Commission in Brussels as a senior information officer. He also worked with Randolph Churchill on the biography of the latter’s father. In fact the book centres around a small port near Toulon. It makes much mention too of Aldous Huxley, Somerset Maugham,H.G.Wells, Muggeridge and Mosley. The French writers, Malraux and Gide are included in this account of the émigré community which provides an introduction to the intellectual drama and the tragic zeitgeist of this seven year period. The major figures are naturally Thomas, whose wife Katia came from a wealthy Jewish family of mathematicians, and his francophile brother Heinrich Mann, as well as Thomas’s son Klaus who engaged in a bitter battle of words at one stage with the Berlin based, Gottfried Benn- before the latter was to realise the full implication of Goebbel’s authoritarian drive from 1933 to achieve the synchronisation of the arts (Gleichschaltung) from his Ministry of Propaganda as Weimar collapse. Directed against Bolshevism it engendered militarism and focussed on anti-semitism taking in gypsies and homosexuals on the way and ending in the horrors of the Holocaust. This was all under the title of popular enlightenment. The account by Mauthner lacks the stylistic verve of George Klaar’s biographical account which affords an insight into the historical development of fascism upon Jewish life in Vienna.

Many Jews who were physically harassed and otherwise threatened by the Nazis and travelled to many locations and were exiled to Amsterdam, Stockholm, Zürich, London, Prague, Moscow as well as across the Atlantic to both North and South America. Martin Mauthner’s book seems to have three great strengths. It shows the wide variety of responses of individual refugees and their attempts to organise opposition to Hitler and the hampering difficulties other countries governments and other organisations presented. There is considerable detail about individuals like Feuchtwanger and Schwarzschild, famous at the time and now unfortunately neglected as well as journalists, publishers, cartoonists and illustrators. This book confines itself to writers, poets and playwrights but is particularly intriguing on the splits with the communists and within the United Front. The cruel trials under the auspices of Stalin proving a profound sticking point; also the different approaches in the Spanish Civil War.

Leopold Schwarzschild Editor of Das Neue Tagebuch
Leopold Schwarzschild
Editor of Das Neue Tagebuch

Just this morning I recieved an interesting posting concerning classical antiquity from http://poemsintranslation.blogspot.co.uk/ with a version of Ovid’s Tristia and the mortifying effects of having to leave his wife behind in charge of his posessions.

Illa dolōre āmēns tenebrīs nārrātur obortīs
   sēmjanimis mediā prōcubuisse domō,
utque resurrēxit foedātis pulvere turpī
  crīnibus et gelidā membra levāvit humō,
sē modo, dēsertōs modo complōrāsse Penātēs,
  nōmen et ēreptī saepe vocāsse virī,
nec gemuisse minus, quam sī nātaeve meumve
 vīdisset strūctōs corpus habēre, rogōs,
et voluisse morī, moriendō pōnere sēnsus,
   respectūque tamen nōn periisse meī.
Vīvat, et absentem, quoniam sīc fāta tulērunt,
    vīvat et auxiliō sublevet usque suō.

Translated by A.Z.Foreman as:-

I’m told she fainted from grief, mind plunged in dark,   
   And fell half-dead right there in our house.
When she came round, with disheveled dust-fouled hair,   
   Staggering up from the cold hard ground,
She wept for herself, for a house abandoned, screaming   
   Her stolen man’s name time after time,
Wailing as though she’d witnessed our daughter’s body   
   Or mine, upon the high-stacked pyre;
And longed for death, to kill the horror and hardship,   
   Yet out of regard for me she lived.
Long may she live! And in life give aid to her absent   
   Love, whose exile the Fates have willed. Tristia